November 20, 2014

Country Potato Soup (copycat la Madeleine recipe)

Without a doubt what I miss most about Texas is the food. Naturally, you would expect me to miss the Tex-Mex, the juicy chopped brisket, the deep fried Southern cooking, and the incomparable Mexican food. But I also miss the less expected--like la Madeleine's potato soup.

La Madeleine is a charming bistro style chain restaurant that I first encountered in Texas. Apparently, it was actually started by a Frenchman who found himself in Dallas. (Gotta feel for that guy!) As to the present day authenticity of these "French" restaurants, friends who lived in France for decades merely noted that, "They try very hard." But when you're stuck in living in Texas and unable to cross the ocean, la Madeleine lends even more variety to the already amazing regional fare. 

Not far from our first apartment was one such la Madeleine. As a newlywed, grad student, and educator, there was many a dinner where something grabbed on the commute home sufficed to feed us that night. In particular every time that Bryan got sick I stopped at la Madeleine to bring him their country potato soup. Now, my hardworking husband used to get sick a lot. The responsibilities of being a new husband, an on-call phone that woke him in the wee hours of the morning, the jam-packed schedule of church activities, all took a toll on his immune system. Meaning we ate our fill of country potato soup for several years. 

As amazing as this soup is, paying five something bucks for a bowl of soup just rubs my frugal sensibilities wrong. Thanks to Recipe Zaar (the predecesor of, I came across a copycat recipe that was spot on. This soup and the copycat recipe that lets me make it whenever I want are just too good not to share! And you can't make a meal cheaper than soup. So the taste factors and the budget factors are all aligning with this one.

Let me share two tips I've learned from cooking this recipe. First, the thinner you can slice your potatoes, the better. The first few times I made this recipe, the flavor was spot on, but it didn't resemble the thickness of the restaurant's version. I had been chopping my potatoes those first several tries, more out of habit than anything. This time around, though, I used the mandoline side of my box grater to get über thin slices of potato. And as far as consistency goes, this was well worth the effort. The thin sheets of potato gradually disintegrated into the soup, yielding the most creamy and perfectly thickened soup to ever leave my stovetop. Since my husband likes chunky soups, I mandolined two of the potatoes and thinly sliced the other two, breaking up the latter with a wooden spoon towards the end of cooking time, providing chunks of potato throughout.

My second tip is to stir, stir, stir. One of the things I love most about cooking soup is just letting it do its thing on the burner while my hands busy with other tasks. Unfortunately, that's not recommended here. Remember those paper thin slices of potato that yield an amazingly thick soup? Well, because of the potatoes' thickening power, you will need to be closeby, stirring frequently if not continuously for the good last half of cooking. You can redeem some of this time by simultaneously breaking up the larger chunks of potatoes with the back of your wooden stirring spoon. But I'm afraid starting on another dish or readying the garnishes is gonna be a tricky affair that could end in a scorched soup exploded all over your range. You have been warned!

The next time I make this (which will probably be tomorrow) I want to experiment with the leeks. The copycat recipe calls for the leeks to be thinly sliced. While most of the leeks soften and disintegrate into a smooth consistency, I noticed that some retained their shape, leaving long mushy strands throughout the soup. (You can see how in the pic below.) There was nothing odd about the taste, nor would these strands be bothersome except to a picky eater. However, I'm hoping to try dicing my leeks next time to see if this remedies the problem. I wouldn't be surprised if this was enough to account for the texture difference, although I also need to be more careful to trim more green from my leeks than I'd like--I just hate wasting all that dark green part! (*See note at the end of this post for an update on this.)

If you have a stock pot, this is a great time to use it. Making the full batch meant a very tight squeeze in my 5 quart Dutch oven! The only upside was the nonstick surface which probably saved me from scorching with how thick those mandolined potatoes made everything. Although the copycat said to cook on medium heat throughout, I'd recommend turning your heat down to medium-low once things really start thickening and possibly even for the last half of cooking. This will hopefully help spare you from splatters and scorches.

*Note: I did indeed try dicing my leeks the next time I made this soup but wasn't impressed with the results. Despite the stringy-ness, I think I'll stick with thinly slicing my leeks in the future. I did notice, however, that the base vegetables (i.e. onion and leeks) softened much quicker having been diced. When sliced, it seems like they took nearly 10 minutes to soften whereas 5 minutes seemed to suffice when diced. This dicing could have also adversely affected the texture as I noticed that the soup lacked the same thickness I had originally achieved for this post. I am keeping the onions and leeks sliced in the recipe below and further recommending 10 minutes for softening just in case this adds yet another layer to that creamy thick goodness.

Without any further ado, here is my adaptation of the country potato soup copycat. Bon appétit!

Copycat La Madeleine Country Potato Soup

Adapted from Lizzie-Babette (

You can mimic la Madeleine's presentation and use small baguette slices, butter, and strawberry jam as accompaniments to this classic soup.

   4 large Russet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
   4 slices bacon
   1 tablespoon unsalted butter
   2 leeks, thinly sliced
   1 large yellow onion, sliced
   6 cups (1-1/2 quarts) chicken stock
   1 teaspoon salt or to taste
2-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream
   1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish

Take 2 of the peeled potatoes and thinly slice across the shortest part of the potato. Using a box grater or a mandoline, take the remaining 2 potatoes and slice as thinly as possible. Set sliced potatoes aside.

In a stock pot, fry bacon over medium heat until cooked and crisp. Drain bacon slices and when cool enough to handle chop as desired for garnish; set aside. Reserve 2 teaspoons bacon grease in stock pot.

Add butter, leeks, and onion to reserved bacon grease in stock pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring occassionally, until leeks and onion are softened but NOT browned, nearly 10 minutes depending on your pot and stove. With a wooden stirring spoon, stir in stock, potatoes, salt, and thyme. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until soup begins to thicken. Once soup becomes noticeably more thick, drop heat from medium to medium-low, and cook an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently or even continuously to avoid scorching, breaking up any remaining chunks of potato with the back of your spoon.

Remove soup from heat. Fish out thyme stems, and stir in heavy cream. Serve hot with garnishes atop individual bowls or family style for each to help themselves. Yield: 6 (1-1/2 cup) servings.

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